The military will not be able to fight outside of Afghanistan and expenses will actually increase if sequestration takes place, the Pentagon's No. 2 said Wednesday night, adding to the chorus of ominous forecasting coming out of the Defense Department that would include massive civilian furloughs.
The across-the-board mandatory cuts known as sequestration would force the military to find $46 billion in savings by the end of the year. This further complicates the Pentagon's financial woes as it still waits for Congress to pass a budget for this fiscal year.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter told PBS Newshour Wednesday night that these savings would have to come out of the pockets of those preparing to defend America from its next enemy. Taking money from these training units means the military won't be ready for conflicts outside of Afghanistan, he said.
"By the end of the year, two-thirds of our active duty Army units and our reserve units will not be ready to fight other wars," he said. "Many of our Air Force units will not be ready to fight other wars. A third of our Navy, our ships in the Pacific, will not be at sea."
Some analysts argue the dire warning are all part of a White House campaign to pressure pro-defense lawmakers into cutting a deal over federal budget reductions and tax increases.
Matt Mackowiak at The Hill points to multiple opportunities the White House and Congress could have seized to avoid the looming cuts.
"In real dollars, what is the cost of the domestic cuts from the sequester?" he writes. "Over one year, they total $85 billion. For some perspective, the emergency supplemental bill for Hurricane Sandy relief was $50 billion. This year's budget deficit is expected to be over $800 billion."
And recent polls show a majority of Americans are open to cuts to the DoD's $500 billion yearly budget—and even GOP lawmakers are split on whether to go ahead with the across-the-board cuts.
Carter's remarks followed a memo from his boss, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, stating that a "vast majority" of the civilian workforce would be subject to administrative furloughs. Roughly 800,000 civilian contractors would be subjected to 22 unpaid days off sprinkled throughout the year, reports say.
The fear of furloughs has created a sense of anxiety at military installations such as Virginia's Fort Belvoir, home to many of the Army's top commands. Managers are now faced with the prospect of figuring out how an office can do without a fifth of its staff at least one day of the week. "Supervisors have a responsibility to make sure the pain of the furlough is spread evenly across their office," says Don Carr, director of Public Affairs at Belvoir. "People are kind of anxious and they're apprehensive, but they're acknowledging the reality of it."
Employees have to consider the effects of these pay cuts personally to plan for the reduced income, he says.
The automatic cuts could actually make national security more expensive, Carter added. The indiscriminate downsizing would force the Pentagon to buy fewer weapons systems, for example, driving the cost of each unit up, he says.